My birthday was Friday, and I turned 44. We had nothing big planned, nothing even a little bit interesting. But it turned out to be a wonderful birthday. Here is the tale..
I was supposed to have coffee with my friend Janet. Doug had spent the night at a sleep study and I thought for certain I'd be fast asleep with no one in the bed with me who was snoring and keeping me awake.
It wasn't so -- I still was awake until 3am, and ended up canceling coffee with Janet via email. Doug called me on his way to work at 7am and told me about the sleep study. He said that he has sleep apnea, and they will be recommending a CPAP machine for him. He said that it was the best night's sleep he's had in a long time. It was marred only by an initial vasovagal panic response when they put the mask on him in the middle of the night. They woke him up, he was groggy and disoriented, so the initial masking didn't go well. Once he got settled (thank goodness he was already in bed laying down... otherwise he would have dropped like a stone) he slept wonderfully. He said he honestly has not felt better in months.
He wanted me to come to Boston and have lunch with him, I agreed and went back to sleep until 11am. We had a great lunch at the Boston Beer Works, and walked around the area where he works, looking at the scenery and the water and the Zakim Bridge. It was a beautiful day for walking around, and luckily Doug's boss was cool with him being gone for over an hour. It isn't like I'm all down there every day making him show me around his work neighborhood and keeping him from getting things done. And it was my birthday. So she was cool.
I then made my way to Springfield.
To see Barenaked Ladies.
Now, many of you know this was not the first time I shared a date with The Ladies as a birthday event. Nine years ago I had one of the best birthday weekends ever, as evidenced by this entry from back in the day. Maine, Hydes, Portland, BNL and a metor shower outside in sleeping bags. A truly amazing and memorable night that wasy.
But that night was the first time I saw Barenaked Ladies live in concert, and my seats were exceptionally bad. After the show, I immediately joined the fan club to get better pre-sale seat options and have never been disappointed with my seats (except for when they played Mohegan Sun, where the fan club seats are in the Triple Z row on the floor).
I have, due to being unemployed, eschewed buying concert tickets for a quite a while. I have had the chance to see Guster and Kings of Leon and many others, but have made financial decisions to benefit the family and not my music listening pleasure. I got phone calls with phone love from other friends at many shows. I lived vicariously through their photos and videos and Facebook status updates.
One of my friends, Abbey, who I met through the BNL discussion board and in person at a show (we think it was a Manchester NH show in maybe 2004?) offered me a ticket to go see the band and told me I didn't have to pay her back for it, because the show was on my birthday.
Well who could say no to such kindness?
I left Boston and cruised to Springfield, got to our meeting spot at the Basketball Hall Of Fame, which she figured would be a good safe place to leave my car (so we would not both have to pay for parking) and to have dinner before the show. I was there very early and took some cool pictures, just hanging around and scoping out the place. They were setting up for a corporate event, so the hall was not open, per se, but no one stopped me from coming in and looking around. I burned an hour checking out the displays and thinking of friends who would enjoy a visit to this spot almost as much as I enjoyed a visit to the Football Hall of Fame a few years back.
Abbey and I had dinner and wonderful conversation. It has been a while since we've seen each other. I think the last time was Guster at the Opera House in Boston, in April of 2007.
We made our way to the show, and the seats, as I mentioned, were great. As we were sitting there, the couple who were to sit next to us showed up.
"We're here! We made it!" said the dude. He stuck out his hand and had this big goofy grin on his face. His lady friend was laughing and smacked him with the back of her hand on his chest.
"I'm so relieved! I was afraid they'd start without you! So glad you're here!" I answered.
They laughed their asses off and it became apparent that these were THE people we were meant to sit with tonight.
They introduced themselves as Eric and DeAnne. Eric lives in Connecticut and she lives in one of the Carolinas, I forget... Long distance relationship that is held together by traveling to see shows together in different markets. Lots of jokes, and lots of chatting about life, we spent the time before the opening act talking about our expectations for the night.
We chatted about BNL, the new album, the tour thus far. They compared experiences with Abbey on the Ships & Dips cruises, and they were on one together so they talked about all sorts of BNL cruise stuff. Both Abbey and they had seen the show at Mohegan Sun recently and neither of them were impressed. They said Ed sounded haggard, things sounded slow and unprofessional. She wondered if they weren't all drunk or hungover from a night of gambling and ridiculousness.
I only hoped that the show wasn't going to suck, based on what they were saying.
By the way -- the photo above was taken during "Million Dollars" when they turn the lights onto the audience. Eric wanted me to catch them on his iPhone but I told him I'd do one better... but he had to stand perfectly STILL. Took me four or five tries to get it, this is the best shot. My only complaint is the shadow across her right eye, but all told... they're stinkin' adorable.
Back to the show.
I will go on record and say I'm normally not a huge fan of opening acts. Not knowing any of their songs (usually) I find I'm sitting there critiquing them and sometimes I just get bored of rock star wannabe antics. Lead singer chicks who change guitars on every song but only play 2 chords and stick their arms up in the air... yawn.
The opener for this show was a little Washington DC/Philly based trio called Jukebox the Ghost. Pretty much the silliest name since Toad the Wet Sprocket, or even Barenaked Ladies, these guys walked gently out onto the stage lookin' all hipster cool, introduced themselves, and launched into a spectacular display of high-energy piano, enthusiastic drumming, great guitar work and tremendous vocals.
It was almost like Ben Folds had a baby with the All-American Rejects or something. Tight, hot piano with crazy good pop hooks. The guitarist and keyboard player share lead singing duties, and they harmonize beautifully. They didn't banter a lot, or talk politics or environment or how they wrote this song or that song. They shared an inside joke or two, and just ripped into songs with playful fury. Several members of the audience were already familiar with them, probably from other shows on this tour, and so they cheered along and did important clapping things in the middle of songs where one would clap along with the rhythm of the interlude.
Newbies to their show caught on quickly (like me) and did the clappy thing too.
Pretty much by the song "Empire," I was sold on them. After their set they were out in the lobby at the merchandise table and I found the guitarist, stuck my hand out and thanked him. I confessed that I usually don't like opening acts but they ruined my cynicism and I was a sworn fan. He found that rather joyful. I got a hug. I hope they're hearing that all over the country.
BNL came out on stage and this being my first time seeing them as a foursome, I hurt a little bit inside not seeing Steve. Back in the good old days fans would say "I'm sitting on Ed side" or "My tickets are Steve side."
This time, it was Ed center... frontman. Rock star. Natural.
I don't have a setlist. The show ranged through lots of Ed songs like "Who Needs Sleep," and Steve songs like "Brian Wilson" and "Old Apartment," both of which Ed handled beautifully. "Million Dollars" and "One Week" worked fine with Kevin and Ed. There were interstitial banter rap bits, Tyler Stewart did an unbelievably high energy "Alcohol" and was drop dead funny (Ed played drums and Jukebox the Ghost came out on stage and joined them). They even played "Pollywog in a Bog" off their kids' album, and the theme to "Big Bang Theory," which blew the roof off the joint (did you know that was a BNL song? Yeah.)
They did at least three songs from the new album. I bought the new album when it came out and have listened to it twice. Long time readers and good friends will probably drop their teeth when they hear me say this, but, I hate the album. Over produced, muddy, the songs just lack conviction and energy. Even the radio release (note, I didn't say "hit" because it sure wasn't) of "You Run Away" just sounds dull and repetitive. Kevin sings on a song that I could like if it was an Ed vocal (Northern Lights). I'm a fan of Kevin Hearn, when he is not singing. I think his voice is annoying and baby like... it really gets on my nerves after two songs.
Performed live, though, the songs were great. This song, which you can watch the video of, "Every Subway Car" was outstanding... truly lovely. No female backup vocal, just Ed and a little harmony from Jim and Kevin and it was perfect.
At the beginning of the show, Eric and DeAnne asked what we thought the opener and closer would be. I thought they'd open with Old Apartment (it was in the first 5 songs), and Eric called it with Who Needs Sleep. I told them that I would love to hear them close with "When I Fall." After Tyler's drunk-acting high shenanigans performance on "Alcohol," I figured there was no way they would end with something so soft. They took it down a notch with "What a Letdown," and then I saw Ed's acoustic being brought out on stage for the third and final.
DeAnne said to me "let's yell it." I hate when people yell stuff out that they want to hear at concerts, but she and I both knew that guitar meant very few things...
So together we screamed out the song we wanted to hear, Ed smiled, and played the opening chords.
If you don't know the song, here is Ed singing it in his bathroom. Yes. In his bathroom. He sat over the course of several days and recorded a ton of songs in his newly refinished bathroom. If you don't know BNL, go through the videos in the Bathroom Sessions, and just watch how he plays, and listen to some of the songs. They're lovely, stripped down, simple and God is Ed just wonderful.
I have heard it live a few times, but this was my birthday and it is like that man played it just for me as a gift. I love that song so much, a little poetic sketch about a suicidally minded window washer. And I cried. I actually stood there and I cried. Like a big fat doofus, I just cried. I was so thankful to Abbey for offering me this ticket, I was so happy that Eric and DeAnne were fun to be with and into the show. I was relieved that they didn't disappoint me horribly because in my heart of hearts I was afraid. BNL without Steve? Yeah. It exists. They are doing fine, people. The nearly sold out show in this beautiful hall in Springfield is evidence of that. Seeing a mess of discussion board people out down front, hearing Ed talk about the next Ships & Dips cruise (and Jukebox the Ghost will be on it with them and Guster and others)... alive and well. Alive and well.
I drove home that night, got in at 1am when I started writing this entry. The entire weekend has passed, it is now 2am on Monday morning and I'm finally starting to feel the sleepies creeping up, if the typos are any indication.
There are other tales to tell, but for now, that's the birthday weekend wrap-up. All the photos can be found in the Flickr set. Enjoy.